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Sehaj: The State of Equipoise
The Talking Stick Colloquium # 63

Convenor: RAVINDER SINGH

 

 

CONVENOR'S NOTE: I have demurred from presenting this topic until now because of its complexity and my own inability to comprehend it fully - because Sehaj is not my natural state, and to my mind, to write about Sehaj without its experience would be folly.

Nonetheless, it is a subject that is central to Sikhi and ignoring it would be equally silly. So I did the next best thing. I translated Dr. Jaswant Singh Neki’s essay,
Sehaj Katha - from his book, Saḏā Vighas - and hope to piggyback his experience and understanding of this subject.

I have been bold enough (or perhaps foolish enough) to insert a thought here or there, and have left out portions in the interest of space (it is still a longish essay).


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In Sikhi, the term sehaj refers to a state of being (or experience) where individual consciousness or the sense of being a separate self (haumai) yields to a broader and deeper consciousness where the underlying unity of all things is revealed. The experiencer of sehaj finds a natural, stable and effortless centeredness, marked by a sense of transcendental tranquility, creativity and bliss.

Sehaj is indeed the goal of all religious and spiritual discipline and practice.

Human existence is characterized by individuation, the sense of a separate self, haumai, which develops because of social and cultural conditioning and coagulates through the pursuit of individual activity.

Viewed thus, haumai is really a mental and social construct, a myth, which not only conceals our authentic Self, but also underlies our emotional and psychological neurosis.

Sehaj arises when haumai is tamed or mastered - even though calling sehaj a “state” is a bit of a misnomer, because as it signifies the mystical, the last reach of human experience that transcends all physical and psychological experiences and therefore not amenable to language.

The term sehaj is a compound of the Sanskrit sang (to be with) and janam (signifying birth) meaning that which is present since birth - a pointer to the fact that sehaj is always with us.

Another way to look at it is to think of it as the spirit’s primal and natural condition.

Sehaj has a long history and usage in the Indian context. It is believed that the term first finds mention in the “vaam margi” tantric tradition and was coined to symbolize a reaction against the hollow ritualism and forced artificial traditions that had crept into popular religion. Sehaj, as adopted by these earliest movements, was a call to reject externally imposed rules, rituals and customs, seeking, instead a return to a more natural state.

The idea of sehaj as the ultimate spiritual goal was adopted by the so-called sehajyani Buddhists, the Nath Yogis, some Shaivite sects and medieval Indian figures like Kabir - but with different connotations and dissimilar practices.

Over time, with its stress on esoteric practices and fixation on controlling or transmuting sexual energy through tantric exercises, the idea of Sehaj acquired a disreputable meaning and fell out of favor. Going natural was carried to its logical extreme - eating, drinking and sex, the primal impulses that drive us, became the focus. Satiation of one’s natural desires became the end in itself.

It was left largely to Guru Nanak and his successor Gurus to revive the notion of sehaj and give it the respectable meaning and place that it enjoys in Indian spiritual thought. Although sants of the nirgun tradition like Kabir and Dadu also adopted and popularized its usage, for them, sehaj was mainly used to counter Hatha yoga practices with its emphasis on forced
physical and psychological disciplines. In fact, they referred to their practice as Sehaj Yog.

The only commonality that Guru Nanak shared with the sants in referring to sehaj as the ultimate goal in life was his rejection of external rituals (karam kand) and the role of intermediaries (pundit/ purohit) and his emphasis on the ultimate experience being an internal one.

But unlike the sants and tantrics, the Sikh Gurus were not simply reactive in rejecting the old cultic practices. In Sikhi, the term sehaj was consciously extended to signify our innate Self (jyot saroop) to which we must re-connect or return. It is also called the fourth state or cẖauthai pad, (beyond the so-called three gunas or sensory experiences), turia pad or turia avasthā (or supreme state) or param pad (the absolute state).

Sehaj is Ultimate Reality.

Extending the meaning and application of sehaj to include everyone had revolutionary implications for Indian society: Sikhi becomes a “do-it-yourself” religion; no proxies needed.Women are no longer seen as evil seducers. The human body is no longer to be tortured; indeed, it is the abode of the One.

To better comprehend sehaj as used in Sikh parlance, it would be useful to view it from several angles or dimensions.

Cognitively, it can be described as “seeing the light,” or an inner awakening brought about by spiritual knowledge, an expansion or flowering of consciousness where the duality of mind and matter begins to recede and the mystery of existence begins to reveal itself - the Truth of this experience is more real than ordinary sensory living.

From a conative perspective, sehaj spells total freedom or release (mukti). Life begins to move with total ease and naturalness. It becomes effortless. The doors of perception become wider - and cleaner - revealing an overwhelming sense of Oneness, inside and outside. In yogic parlance, this is the opening of dasam duar (tenth door). One’s inner rhythm syncs up with the rhythm of Existence and there is a recognition of being a participant in the Universal symphony (anhat nad).

Emotional highs and lows, so characteristic of our mundane lives, cease. Sorrow and Joy pass and flow like ripples on the surface of our consciousness, which ocean like, remains calm and serene in its depths. The realization dawns that the ups and downs of life - grief and happiness - are like the clothes we wear and discard everyday.

In sehaj, the self-illumined authentic Self is fueled by its own limitless resource of energy and creativity diminishing or reducing sharply the hold of our physical needs like sleep and hunger.

Gurbani speaks of sehaj repeatedly. Here is Guru Arjan, in Raag Gauri [GGS:236-237] instructing us on sehaj - its manifest characteristics, its transcendence, it naturalness, its independence and its desirability - by describing those in Sehaj:

Friend and foe are one and the same to them.

Whatever they hear is the Naam, the Name of the Lord.

Whatever they see is meditation.

They awaken in peace and poise; they sleep in peace and poise.

That which is meant to be, automatically happens

In peace and poise, they remain detached; in peace and poise, they laugh.

In peace and poise, they remain silent; in peace and poise, they chant.

In peace and poise they eat; in peace and poise they love.

The illusion of duality is easily and totally removed.

They naturally join the Saadh Sangat, the Society of the Holy.

In peace and poise, they meet and merge with the Supreme Lord God.

They are at peace in their homes, and they are at peace while detached.

In peace, their bodies' duality is eliminated.

Bliss comes naturally to their minds.

They meet the Lord, the Embodiment of Supreme Bliss.

In peaceful poise, they drink in the Ambrosial Nectar of the Naam, the Name of the Lord

In peace and poise, they give to the poor.

Their souls naturally delight in the Lord's Sermon

The Imperishable Lord abides with them.

In peace and poise, they assume the unchanging position.

In peace and poise, the unstruck vibration of the Shabad resounds.

In peace and poise, the celestial bells resound

Within their homes, the Supreme Lord God is pervading.

With intuitive ease, they meet the Lord, according to their karma.

With intuitive ease, they meet with the Guru, in the true Dharma.

Those who know, attain the poise of intuitive peace

Slave Nanak is a sacrifice to them.

[Translation: srigranth.org]


LET'S CONSIDER

The passage above leaves little doubt about sehaj being the ultimate destination for Sikhs.

How does one get there?

In considering sehaj, it becomes abundantly clear that there is tantric/ Nath yogi terminology used by the Guru that reflects its common usage during their times. What caution must we exercise when we come across terms like dasam duar, anhat nad, amriṯ, sabad and so on - all terms used by mystical and esoteric traditions and laden with their meanings.

Take, for example, the use of the term amriṯ in Sikhi.

In its original concept, amriṯ referred to bindu or semen, which had to transmute through yogic practices into maharasa or the
immortal nectar. But in Guru Nanak, the term is associated with naam, not any sublimation.

 

October 19, 2011

 

Conversation about this article

1: Prakash.Singh Bagga (India), October 19, 2011, 10:33 AM.

The word 'sehaj' has very special references. It has different meanings in different contexts, including: 1) natural state; 2) inborn nature; 3) effortlessness; 4) the highest spiritual state.

2: Devinder Singh (India), October 19, 2011, 11:04 AM.

How can one discuss sehaj without knowing it in one's experience? Even haumai is difficult to seize, because, in fact, to realize what the ego (haumai) is, one must already be out of it. Human nature is shot through with the stuff. Every action of man is full of ego - the good ones as well as the bad, his humility as much as his pride, his virtues as much as his vices.

3: Ajit Singh Batra (Pennsville, New Jersey, U.S.A..), October 19, 2011, 12:09 PM.

"Prabh kay simran sehaj samaani" (Sukhmani). That is, "Meditation of naam makes one rest in Sehaj". But a person thinks only in terms of the body and forgets that it is just a temporary instrument and therefore runs for outward/ material happiness. He ignores the maladies which the soul suffers in the body and does not take corrective action (through, for example, naam juppna). The soul is permanent that resides temporarily in the body and has emanated from a pure source. And only through naam cab it can be restored to its natural condition of purity. And that yields a state of sehaj - peace and tranquility, in harmony with Waheguru.

4: Sangat Singh  (Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia), October 19, 2011, 12:30 PM.

Albert Einsein said: "Life is like riding a bicycle. To keep your balance, you must keep moving." That's the secret. There are hundreds of shabads that extol the virtue of this path. The key to balancing the spiritual and worldly lies in living them in tandem. Bhai Vir Singh has greatly emphasized this path in his book "Gurumukh Sikhyaa."

5: Gurinder Singh (San Diego, California, U. S.A.), October 19, 2011, 8:19 PM.

This is the first time I have heard that the earliest use of the word 'amrit' was for semen. Can you please cite the source or a reference for this?

6: Prakash Singh Bagga (India), October 20, 2011, 12:14 AM.

One should not worry about the ego. Reading, listening to gurbani, and contemplating its meaning on a regular basis will automatically take care of the ego. When the ego is in control, then only naam enters the heart.

7: Ravinder Singh  (Westerville, Ohio, U.S.A.), October 20, 2011, 5:25 AM.

I agree with Prakash Singh ji (#6). Controlling the ego is like the pursuit of happiness - it cannot be done directly. It is a by-product. To #5 (Gurinder ji): the direct reference is from Prof. Niharranjan Ray's essay, "The Concept of Sehaj," in "Perspectives on Guru Nanak", Edited by Prof. Harbans Singh, Patiala University. I quote Prof. Ray simply because I happened to be re-reading the essays in this volume recently, which was a collection of papers delivered at a seminar in 1969 on Guru Nanak. But the notion of transmuting/ transforming bindu (semen) into amrita is a very common and popular strand of thought in Hinduism. As a teenager, I hung around wrestlers and yogis, and abstinence and holding the semen was a prime requirement. There is plenty of yogic literature out there - starting with Gorakhnath's Hathyoga Pradipika where you can find the emphasis on controlling the semen. But Prof. Ray does a good job of summarizing all this and, more importantly, contrasting it with Guru Nanak's usage of the term.

8: Devinder Singh (India), October 20, 2011, 5:57 AM.

It would be worthwhile rereading Inni Kaur's translation of Bhai Vir Singh: "Naam is the divine light meeting the light within you." Sehaj arises when haumai is tamed or mastered, says Ravinder ji. Can we ignore the ego? Egoism is a relatively easy thing to correct, because everyone knows what it is. But to realise what the ego is, you must have freed yourself from it, at least partially, at least in some little corner of the being. To see that is the first step, to see the falsity of the ego movement is the second, to discourage and refuse it is the third. Of course, ego will go away entirely only when one sees, experiences and lives the One in sehaj. Naam will enter only when the ego is weakened by effort.

9: Mohan Singh (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), October 20, 2011, 7:22 AM.

As the highest spiritual state, sehaj is the ultimate positive state of the mind in all perfection, where Waheguru abides. As said in Japji in the 4th and 5th realms, the aim of Sikh teachings in a nut shell is to attain to this state of mind. Also somes time referred as the chautha pad or turi avastha. The state of equipoise or perfect peace of mind is unique and is of its own kind, which cannot be described in words. Sehaj is a state of infinite peace, a state which cannot be compared with any thing else. It cannot be compared with any gain or loss of any material thing. In the state of sehaj one has no ambition for longer life or the fear of death, nor is there the feeling of pleasure or pain. There prevails eternal and complete tranquility of mind, no evil thoughts emerge and there is no sense of duality or selfishness. The blessed person feels one with God and with all creation as explained by Bhagat Kabir in GGS:333.

10: Mohan Singh (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), October 20, 2011, 7:34 AM.

How can we attain sehaj? Submit to the Guru, with God abiding in us lovingly and thus live with Him; pay heed to His commands and lovingly obey them. We should associate with the company of the pious ones and yearn to listen to the Lord's praises. This association is attained through His Grace, and thus union with Him is attained while we are alive. No one else is competent to bless us with naam or union with Him or the state of sehaj. Man needs guidance and control over his activities in every walk of life, from birth till death, which is provided by living within His hukam.

11: Mohan Singh (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), October 20, 2011, 7:37 AM.

In Sikh parlance, Amrit is gyan, naam or prabh. In Sikhi, there is no place for, or reference to, or usage of the term in the Hindu meaning cited above.

12: Ajit Singh Batra (Pennsville, New Jersey, U.S.A..), October 20, 2011, 7:46 AM.

When the mind is set in sehaj, the ego goes away. It is the mind that is the problem. We have to struggle to tackle the mind. Bhagat Kabir ji [GGS:342]: "eh man saktee eh man see-o" - "The mind is power/maya and the same mind is God!" Guru Nanak In Japji: "man jeetay jag jeet" - "By conquering the mind, the world is conquered"! Socrates says: "There is no real philosophy until the mind turns around and examines itself."

13: Inni Kaur (Fairfield, CT, U.S.A.), October 20, 2011, 8:34 AM.

Transcreation from Bhai Vir Singh's explanation of the fourth Lavaan: In the fourth link, your consciousness experiences its true intuitive nature (sehaj) and in that state, you realize the Timeless Reality. What is true intuitive nature (sehaj)? True intuitive nature can be compared to a shallow lake where there is no foam or froth, no waves are formed - a stillness. That "stillness" is the true intuitive nature of your consciousness. Desires rise like the waves, but they cannot shake that stillness. Your consciousness has reached its True Home and is at True Peace. This is the way in which the consciousness is meant to reside in the body. You will then experience your true inner divine nature. This is the way your nature is meant to reside within you. And then the body and mind lovingly unite. The sweetness of divinity is experienced. Day and night, you contemplate. And then the desire for the union bears fruit and you attain union with the Creator. A congratulatory echo resounds within. The Creator stages this soul marriage. In the heart of the "woman" (one-light, the couple) the Divine radiates. She (the one-light) has attained her Lord-Husband, who is all pervading and eternal.

14: Devinder Singh (India), October 20, 2011, 8:41 AM.

Ref #10. To be in sehaj is to be one with God.

15: Prakash Singh Bagga (India), October 20, 2011, 10:10 AM.

Sehaj is a state prior to being in unison with Naam. Also, a reminder: the concept commonly known as 'God' is not subscribed by Sikhi.

16: Ajit Singh Batra (Pennsville, New Jersey, U.S.A..), October 20, 2011, 11:58 AM.

We need to realize that the world in which we live is not to be denied. In Aasa di Vaar, Guru Angad says: "The world is the abode of the True One because He resides in it". The world needs to be correctly interpreted. In reality, it is temptations that lead us astray, creating and reducing the world to falsity. Guru Nanak, also in Assa di Vaar, says: "The ruler and the ruled both are immersed in falsehood. The whole world wallows in it." A person creates a world of his own which is as illusory as a dream. He/she must wake up and change the false outlook in order to be in sehaj.

17: Devinder Singh (India), October 20, 2011, 8:29 PM.

To Prakash Singh ji #15: Quoting from the article above: "In Sikhi, the term sehaj refers to a state of being (or experience) where individual consciousness or the sense of being a separate self (haumai) yields to a broader and deeper consciousness where the underlying unity of all things is revealed." In the normal course, we are shut up as it were in our own skin, and have no contact with others except quite externally and superficially. It is the ego which gives us a small sense or experience of self - a veil that makes us feel ourselves to be something separate from the divine, and separate from other individuals. In other words, the ego is that which veils us from a knowledge and experience of our True Self. In the experience of Dr. J.S. Neki, it is only the state of unison with naam that is sehaj. Any prior stage or state is still in the ego.

18: Nirmal Singh Nilvi (Texas, U.S.A.), October 22, 2011, 12:29 PM.

It is a pleasure to read many thought provoking views on this intriguing topic, though some tend to be somewhat side-tracking. With due respect, sehaj, in my view, is not an ultimate destiny for a Sikh, but a highly desired and "wisely cultivated balanced mind-set/approach"; that helps us better deal with life's complicated vagaries, stresses and duress. Sehaj in itself is not equipoise, but a conduit in attaining equipoise. To render sehaj into equipoise, Guru Arjan cited the shabad as a good example to learn to add balance in our approach to many significant aspects of life. Religious practices and doctrines are not exclusive but chosen domains of sehaj, spirituality is; because the Creator has equally endowed the atheists with sehaj. Sehaj is one of the most critical aspects that define us in others' view. So what is sehaj? It is an amalgam of birth-acquired pattern of thoughts, emotions and conscience; augmented andrefined with learning, knowledge and experience; that comes across as "a composite state of us being in a certain well-established pattern and mind-set" normally portrayed to and perceived by others. Sehaj is prone to adverse impact of known negative emotional aspects, and a measure of our devotional and religiosity metrics.

19: Ravnder Singh (Westerville, Ohio, U.S.A.), October 23, 2011, 8:00 AM.

Thanks for the comments. As we wind down this discussion, a few things to remember: like many other terms, sehaj also has several usages, ranging from the colloquial Punjabi (where it is used for patience, balance, etc.) to the highly esoteric tantric/yogic meanings, to its particular meaning(s) in gurbani. It is worthwhile remembering that these terms have come laden with layers of meanings and then invested with a new meaning by the Sikh Gurus. From the comments, it is clear that we are using the term in all its varying shades.

20: Balbir Singh (Germany), October 23, 2011, 12:37 PM.

Ego knows what is Gur and Gur Sabad. Still, I am missing Sehaj and Hari.

21: Ajit Singh Batra (Pennsville, New Jersey, U.S.A..), October 23, 2011, 1:41 PM.

The term "Sehaj" with so many meanings is the cause of illusion. A person is living in the world of illusions, the difference being that illusion is his/her own creation. The kingdom of heaven created by Waheguru is within each one of us, and is within our reach but illusion distorts the vision and causes unhappiness. That is why our Gurus had to step in and define sehaj as the state of mind in harmony with the One.

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The Talking Stick Colloquium # 63"









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